It is always sad to see deserted villages and town and even though they are being given status by UNESCO, they still harbour a feeling of meloncholy.
There is no escaping the fact that young people will no longer work at back-breaking, low-paying jobs on farms, and abandoned villages like these are a familiar site all over the Mediterranean. Even when some houses are restored by a local who works abroad, they are then used only as holiday homes. The greatest cause for concern then becomes the elderly left to fend for themselves when all the young people have fled to coastal towns for work.
When people ask me what my favourite place in Sicily is, I give the name of the last one I visited, because each time I go there, Sicily works her magic on me and I fall in love again with the people, the scenery, the ambiance of wherever I happen to be. Last time it was Cefalù, the medieval town lying just an hour’s drive east of Palermo and located between its own natural bay and the towering rocky granite mass called La Rocca.
I had thought of Cefalù as a touristy town as it seemed to feature in most of the holiday brochures but when I first walked down its winding medieval main street flanked with an array of little shops from artisan bakers and designer boutiques to a beautifully tiled pharmacy complete with ancient fittings, I realised how wrong I’d been. In between the shops are family-run restaurants serving the freshest of fish and local delicacies, and its unique Norman cathedral is right on the street, although set a little way back, its place in the life of the town assured. Doubly so, as there is a bar and a gelateria on the corner!
Cefalù’s origins go back to the Carthegenians. It was then colonised by the Greeks (the name derives from the ancient Greek word for “Cape”) but the town we see today was built at the behest of the Norman King, Roger II.
The building of the two-towered Cathedral began in 1131 and is a fine example of what is termed “Sicilian Romanesque”. There is an exquisite mosaic of Christ Pantocrator on a gold background above the altar, created by twelfth-century Byzantine artists which is twinned with the Palatine Chapel in Palermo and the Duomo in Monreale. If there is a chance to see all three on a trip do take advantage of this, because seeing the trio of mosaics enhances one’s appreciation of each one.
Towering above the Duomo and the town centre is La Rocca, a massive crag which presents an interesting challenge to walkers in the hot summer months. The steep ascent winds up ancient, well worn steps and footpaths but it is well worth the effort to reach the top. A bottle of water is essential. Don’t even attempt the climb in very hot weather,
It is an old Saracen stronghold and near the top there are the remains of a megalithic Temple of Diana which dates back to Sicanian-Greek times (the Sicans were one of the native peoples of Sicily, and Diana, of course, is a Latin name for the Greek goddess Artemis). Left to decay over time only parts of the fortress survive – fragments of several small castles and a vast medieval wall encircling the mountain. The crenelated ‘castle’ at the summit is a recent, but faithful, reconstruction and beyond the temple, the mountain is wooded with pine trees and a few indigenous shrubs.
As well as the ruins of the temple, the climb is worth the effort for the truly spectacular views of the cathedral, town and coast. Red roofed houses and the ochre and yellow walls of the town are gilded by the sun and on the dark sapphire of the sea tiny white sail boats are bobbing.
The harbour area with it narrow alleys and medieval buildings is a picturesque spot. Unlike most of the fishing villages that dot Sicily’s coast, Cefalù had a great and grand past – important enough for Roger II to build a cathedral here. Worth seeing are the Saracen wash-house, the Lavatorio, and the Osterio Magno originally thought to have been King Roger’s residence but which now houses art exhibitions.
During the morning the fishermen sit on the quayside by their upturned boats, repairing their nets or getting ready to take to sea again, happy to exchange banter with the curious tourists who are fascinated by the method of net-mending. If it is not a school-day there will be children playing among the ropes of blue and orange and dogs and the occasional brave cat will chase each other around the lobster pots.
While its later history was less distinguished, there is still an indefinable air of something important about this harbour. The beach is indifferent but its position, and views of stunning sunsets through archways in the walls make it a magnet for people at night, to walk along the rocky path that winds along the shore below the sea-facing walls and to drink coffee or wine in dusky bars that hug the waterfront.
Around Cefalù, places of interest include a hillside pilgrimage destination, the Sanctuary of Gibilmanna, and directly south of Cefalù is the Madonie National Park (my own favourite) where holiday-makers will find skiing in winter and hiking in spring and autumn. The pictuesque town of Castelbuono in the park makes a pleasant day out whether you take a taxi or a bus (a 40 minute journey departing from Cefalù railway station), Palermo is just an hour away by train, and the Aeolian Islands can be reached by hydrofoil in the summer, including Volcano Island with its still live volcano (best seen at night if you have time).
Sicilian cooking has a reputation second to none but those with a nut allergy should be careful. Sicilians really love pistachios. They eat these green nuts wherever possible and will even smear pistachio paste from a jar on a slice of panettone. They sprinkle them over pastries, create wonderful ice cream with them and make pasta sauce with them. Pasta with prawns, tomatoes and pistachio has to be eaten to be believed – it’s fabulous. And while pistachio ice cream is not unknown to us in Europe or the USA, that in Sicily has a flavour so intense that most people after the first one, ask for ‘a large one’ next time.
And Cefalu also has beaches. Most beaches have a charge for chairs and umbrellas but along with this you get clean sands and well behaved people, sunshine, sea, boat rides, and often a cafe. What more could the seeker after a hedonistic holiday ask for?
Day something in the great lock down and my place is tidier than a monk’s cell so while I’m thinking of what past travels to write about, I’m sorting half a lifetime’s accumulation of trivia, travel books, cards and pamphlets kept from the last great tidying session when I downsized six years ago. It’s been hard, but hey, I’ve managed to throw out two books, and at least five pamphlets I’ll never read again and I have put some of the postcards aside to send to friends! The rest will have to stay put until the next national crisis. More I cannot do!
So here are just a few pictures that remind me of happy times.
Sifting through my memory box I relive and recall trips which have slipped to the back of my mind. These in turn encourage me to look out photographs, some prints, some transparencies which I must get down to converting to digital images one of these days. Black and white prints, slides, then coloured prints and finally digital prints and computer discs. And then there are the old family photos and my husbands wartime photos in Burma to be sorted through one day.
It was the early sixties when we discovered a little village called Castel de Ferro when the son of the owner of the only hotel there jumped out in front of our car to stop us and invite us in to see the new swimming pool. Those were innocent days when we politely stopped and they actually thought it was a good way to get tourists to stay with them.
And stay we did, for two weeks or so, during which time the local boy-goatherds followed me around wherever I went. They had never seen a ‘foreigner’ before and when my husband took them all for a ride in the green Austin van we had in those days, their giddy pleasure knew no bounds. We spent many hours with them and we’d supply a picnic as they were on the mountains from dawn till dusk with only a few scraps to eat, caring for the skinny goats. On the day we left all the little boys were crying and it near broke my heart.
Spain opened to tourism sometime in the fifties, and those of us who went then were greeted with warmth and friendliness. Franco had kept Spain out of World War Two (it was a broken country after the Civil War 1936-39 anyway) but as he leaned heavily towards the Axis’ powers help was not forthcoming to re-structure the country. Until the advent of the Cold War and the West’s fear of Russia that is, when the need for strategic military basis and airports ushered in the Marshall Plan, and Spain, along with other countries in Europe received aid, mainly from the USA, which helped it get back on its feet again.
It took a long time though, for the infrastructure to get into place. For many years the roads throughout Spain bore the chalked message “Franco, Mas Arboles, Mas Agua, Mas Carreteras” (more trees, more water, more roads). Not only were the existing roads in dire states but there were few of them. The above photo of the car breakdown took place on the main road between Valencia and Granada. Our car hit a rock or stone in the middle of the road and combined with driving on many untarmacked roads throughout our trip, it brought us to a halt. Local farm-workers helped move it and we managed to limp on until we came to a repair shop/garage.
Nowadays Spain has some of the best roads in Europe.
The photo of Benidorm is of the town before it became the biggest thing in tourism and the Avenida Hotel (still there) was one of only a handful in 1959. We stayed there in a room where our balcony looked on to the open air cinema which showed mainly very old, heavily censored films, but with a cheap bottle of wine and some nibbles to enjoy, it made for a fun night. I say ‘night’ because the cinema didn’t start until midnight or later – no-one worried about the possibility of people not being able to sleep. You either slept or you went to the cinema. What? You want another option?
I think I’d better stop there as the post is getting too long. I’ve still got a bunch of photographs on the computer which I hope to downsize and caption and I’ll put a few more up after I’ve tussled with the garden where the weeds are in a defiant mood. I’ve got to get them under control before they master me.
Everyone is familiar with the old wooden houses in the area known as Bryggen in the port city of Bergen, which was rebuilt on 12th century foundations after the fire that ravaged the city in 1702. Bryggen has a place on UNESCO’S World Heritage List, but the whole city of Bergen is a designated World Heritage City. It was the largest town in Scandinavia during the middle ages and because of its position as one of the Hanseatic League’s four most important trading centres, it dominated trade for almost 400 years from its incorporation in 1360.
The world heritage site consists of the old Hanseatic wharf and buildings, an attractive place for tourists and locals and a photographer’s delight. To stroll through Bryggen’s narrow alleyways is to wander back to a bygone age: many of the small wooden houses that line these streets date back to the 18th century and have been restored and refurbished in recent years to their current impeccable state. Not only is this a heritage site but it is a living, breathing one, part of a culture still active in this historical part of the city.
I can’t think of any other city that more deserves the designation of World Heritage City: it has a fairy-tale air with a charm and atmosphere not often found in busy places. Seven mountains form the backdrop to the city and everywhere are small wooden houses, their doorways flanked by pots of brightly-coloured flowers, old cobbled streets and alleyways, and of course, Bryggen.
Surrounded by fiords and a fantastic coastline with thousands of islands, Bergen is a base for active experiences such as fiord and river rafting, scuba diving, ocean rafting, sailing, kayaking, cycling and paragliding. Those whose liking is for mountains are spoiled for choice here as all seven of the mountains that surround the city have great walking trails (the tourist board will provide maps).
If the active life is not for you, then shopping could not be better in this city of traders, (take the hop-on hop-off bus), hop on the little sight-seeing train and be guided around the area, or take one of the many guided tours on land or by boat.
And it’s said that you’ve not seen Bergen until you’ve taken a trip on the Fløibanen funicular to the top of Mt. Fløyen to view the city from the spectacular viewing platform 200m above.
Cafes, restaurants, galleries and shops abound in the area, many of them selling traditional and unique crafts. Bryggen’s Museum is the place to learn about the history of the city and an impressive collection of art is housed in a row of galleries lining the picturesque Lille Lungegärdsvann Lake in the heart of the city (Art Street); or visit the Grieg Museum for a half-hour lunchtime concert and a visit to the site of the composer’s unique grave.
If museums are not your thing, then just step into the Fish Market, the open-air fruit and veg market with its stalls full of the freshest berries I’ve ever seen, wander around the wharf and admire the fishing boats, tourist boats and naval vessels. Locals resting on the seats around the basin will be eager to chat with you, fishermen tending their nets will happily talk about fish and the ever-changing kaleidoscope will keep you entertained for hours.
I didn’t spend long enough there, a mere 3 days, but it gave me a taster of what the city and its environs can offer. Some people I spoke to had arrived by cruise ship and seemed happy with their half day there. I wouldn’t have been. I think I might have cried if I’d had to leave such a gorgeous place after only a few hours. But whether its 3 hours or 3 days, Bergen will offer the visitor a lot to see and a lot to think about.
NB. Best buy – The Bergen Card: Free entrances to many Museums and activities, heavily discounted entrance fees to other places. Travel free on the Light Rail and buses. 24 hours NOK 280, senior & students 224, children 100: 48 hour NOK 360, senior & students 288, children 130
Known as The Amalfi Drive (formally Strada Statale 163) the coast road along the shoreline from Sorrento to Amalfi (and on to Salerno) is one of the most poular drives in Italy. Originally built by the Romans, it is one of the most photographed coastal routes in the world, seen in countless films like Under the Tuscan Sun and the Humphrey Bogart classic Beat the Devil (1957) featuring a young Gina Lollobrigida. Gamers may recognize it as a setting for fictional tracks in Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo 4 games. UNESCO actually named the Amalfi Coast an outstanding example of Mediterranean landscape and gave it a place on the World Heritage List.
Carved out of the side of the coastal cliffs for the greater part of its route, the road gives vertiginous views down to the Tyrrhenian Sea and to the towering cliffs above. It passes through Positano, the village of the rich and famous where fabulous villas accessible only on foot from above, by helicopter from the air, or by yacht from the sea, are built into the sides of the mountain, making it a major tourist attraction.
We originally took the guided tour by coach as this seemed the easiest way to experience the drive, and we were right, but we enjoyed the trip so much that we took the local bus a few days later and enjoyed it even more.
We decided against stopping off at Positano however, having been warned against this by a fellow hotel guest who had been left standing for hours as the buses returning from Amalfi were all full when it reached Positano so no chance of getting on one. Amalfi filled the day however, and we managed to fit in a trip to Ravello as well.
I have no argument with those who say that the 50 Kilometre Amalfi Coast drive is probably the world’s most beautiful and thrilling, piece of tarmac-ed sightseeing in Europe. If you can ignore the hairpin bends, the crazy Italian driving, the narrowness of the road that means your vehicle could possibly plunge into the churning sea below, the views are spectacular. The road is built at a very steep angle, zigzagging backwards and forwards and from the window of your vehicle you can see craggy rocks thrusting through the foamy waters below.
Despite the heavy traffic, all fighting for space on hairpin bends, the Amalfi Drive is a fascinating trip with every corner revealing an even more stunning view protected by Unesco. Pastel-coloured villages are terraced into the mountainside, medieval watchtowers guard the coast, and here and there huge colourful ceramic urns In yellow, blue, green and red, announce a “ceramic factory”. Among the green slopes of the cliffs are scented lemon groves and a profusion of pink and white oleanders, and enticing restaurants locate on precipitous corners daring you to stop for a coffee. This white-knuckle ride is one of Italy’s greatest wonders but it is not for the faint of heart. It is 80 kl of narrow, S-curve roadway strung halfway up a cliff with the waves crashing below.
At the end of the Drive you have Amalfi, tiny, expensive but one of the easier towns of those strung along the coast to walk around. It rises gently up the hillside from the waterfront rather than clinging vertically to it like some of the other coastal towns, like Positano for instance. Hard to believe that this very touristy town had a glorious history as a maritime republic on a par with the better known Pisa, Venice and Genoa.
Nevertheless, Amalfi was a trade bridge between the Byzantine and western worlds for centuries with a population exceeding 70,000 (today, less than 5,000). Unfortunately, there are very few historical buildings of note as most of the old city, and its inhabitants, slid into the sea during the 1343 earthquake.
My trip to Rome coincided with the heat wave which, although welcome in that it meant I didn’t need to carry around a shower-proof jacket (just in case), did mean I had to carry a paper umbrella bought from a street trader who must have thought his birthday and Christmas had come along at the same time, so many were the customers queuing up to buy his parasols.
Rome is wonderful in any weather but walking in 34ᵒ heat
this time made sight-seeing a trifle difficult.
It did, however, allow for many more granitas and gelato stops, even as
it cut down on the photography.
We stayed at the wonderful Forum Hotel, so named because it
faces the Forum. To wake up every
morning and look out on the sprawl of ancient pillars and stones glowing from
the rising sun, was magical. We had the
same view from the breakfast terrace on the rooftop, so although I usually
forego breakfast, in this case it was a must.
The Forum was ancient Rome’s showpiece centre, a site originally developed in the 7th century BC from a marshy burial ground which grew into the social, commercial and political hub of the Roman Empire. It was a handsome district of temples, basilicas and bustling public spaces which, with a little imagination is easy to people with toga-clad inhabitants going about their business accompanied by their slaves.
Part of the Forum is open for wandering around but to see it
all one needs to pay. However, I would
say leave this until the end of your stay, because a) you can see some of it
without charge and b) there is so much else to see in Rome and you can always
return to it if you wish.
It is but a short walk from the Forum to the Colosseum, the hugely impressive, troubling monument to Roman imperial power and cruelty. Inside this emblem of Rome, behind the serried ranks of Tuscan, Iconic and Corinthian columns, and three storeys of superimposed arches, Romans for centuries cold-bloodedly killed thousands of people for amusement, and sent gladiators to their death as they fought wild animals like lions, tigers and leopards for the amusement of the rulers and the populace.
The Colosseum is now a mere shadow of its former self as only about one-third of the original building still stands, its glistening marble and stone having been carried away and used in the building of palaces and churches by Roman popes and aristocrats who coveted it. Nearby Palazzo Venezia and the Tiber’s river defences are just two examples of this.
Originally the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world, a pleasure palace built for the people by the emperor Vespasian (69-79) to a design worked out before the building began, it was capable of holding 50,000 spectators,
It is difficult not to quote sizes and quantities in such an undertaking, suffice to say that drains were built 8m beneath the structure to take away the streams that flow from the valleys and hills that surround Rome: the foundations under the outer walls and seating are 12-13m deep while under the inner part of the arena they are only 4m deep. The spoil dug from the foundations was used to raise the surround level by over 6m.
Sometimes quoting facts and figures like these can take away from the brooding power of the Colosseum, but I never fail to be moved by an atmosphere still inside those walls.
The Victor Emmanuel Palace.
Also known as ‘Il Vittoriano’ and sometimes referred to as The Wedding Cake Palace by the locals, this monument to King Victor Emanuel II, is a bombastic monument of sparkling white marble decorated with numerous allegorical statues, reliefs and murals. At the center of the monument is the colossal equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel, and on either side are fountains representing the seas that border Italy, the Adriatic Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea. At the foot of the statue Guards of honor, selected from the marine, infantry and air divisions, guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier day and night.
Inside the monument is the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento, which charts the events that led to the unification of Italy, with a display of paintings, documents, photographs and memorabilia, the entrance to which is to the left of the monument, at the Via di San Pietro in Carcere.
During the 1930’s, the Italian dictator, Mussolini, delivered his speeches to the populace from the terraces and balconies of this building.
The Victor Emmanuel Monument cannot be considered one of Rome’s most beautiful buildings and its stark whiteness does not fit well into the soft ochre color of the surrounding buildings. Nevertheless, it is well worth the visit if only for the great views from the top (which is also connected to the Capitoline Square which may also be on your list).
A useful tip for visitors: You will see lots of advertisements – everywhere – to buy tickets that “skip-the-queues” and indeed you do skip the line for tickets. But unfortunately, after many years of this, the queue for the “skip-the-queue” line is much longer than the normal one to buy tickets at the office, so take my advice, ignore this (and ignore the touts who will offer you tickets for immediate entry), join the queue for tickets and you’ll be through in no time.
Just to say that I’ve heard nothing from any of you lovely bloggers out there whose posts regularly pop into my Inbox to cheer me up. Finally, feeling both frustrated and cross, I approached WP for a reason as I knew you would all be posting and they suggested I check my Notifications page.
So I did. And guess what. A gremlin, or something, or somebody, had been in there an ticked the box to block all notifications. I am at a loss to account for this as I’ve never even seen this page to my knowledge.
But anyway, just so you know why you haven’t had any comments from me. I’m still here, not able to post due to pressure of things, but hoping to start soon, and meantime, I shall try and catch up with everyone’s recent posts.
This group of bronze statues shows the release of Greek Cypriot prisoners, peasants and clergy, from British colonial rule during the fight for independence on the island of Cyprus. The statue is in Nicosia but I was unable to find a date for it. I photographed it sometime in the 1970’s and I think it was fairly new then.
It’s not that I don’t like the blocks themselves, it’s that the script offering them runs across what I’m trying to write, causing frustration and annoyance. For a while back I was coping but now WP seems to have put a gremlin in the works. Instead of the block for Image showing up, I get a list of blocks I don’t need or use (for business, mostly) so I have to find ways to get the image block up which means time spent searching. If I only use paragraph and image can’t the Blocks intuitively sense this? Why offer me blocks I’ve never used?
Today I was uploading a Sculpture Saturday post and the tools down the right-hand side disappeared, leaving me with a page which held my text and image but nothing else. I couldn’t find categories, tags, slugs, anything like that so I had to add these via the list of Posts. Then I wanted to defer this posting until Saturday, but that button wasn’t there either. I thought if I hit Publish it might give me the chance to put a date in but no, I hit publish and guess what, it’s published it!
And now, for something completely different (thank you Monty Python).
(this was still in my Drafts folder so I’m re-posting it as I’m unsure what is happening. Another mix-up with Blocks?)
Commissioned by the French government on the 60th Anniversary of WWll and erected in 2004 as a monument to the Americans who helped liberate France, this moving sculpture stands at the centre of Omaha Beach.
The beach today is an place of calm and tranquillity but 76 years ago it was an inferno of noise, smoke and slaughter. Here, along a five-mile stretch of shoreline, the men of the American 1st and 29th Divisions, caught off-guard as they had not expected to meet such opposition, battled their way through fierce German defences.
Thousands of Allied troops were killed in the D-Day battle of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, but it was perhaps the single greatest turning point of World War II.t.
As my sculpture ofDionysus uploaded a couple of few weeks ago only showed part of the work I thought I’d add a few more pictures to show the whole carving. It shows some members if the family of Bacchus.
Father: Zeus (supposedly the face of Robert Stigwood who commissioned the piece).
Some of the symbols of Dionysus are also found in the sculpture.
The Grapes and Goblet: The symbol of the Grapes and Goblet relate to his role as the god of wine. He taught mortals how to plant and tend the grapevine, press the juice and make it into wine.
The ram signifies more the decadent side of Dionysus and is more often associated with the Roman version of the myth in which Dionysus is called Bacchus.
Ivy: Ivy or holly vines were a symbol of immortality and decadent indulgence, Dionysus was often depicted wearing this type of wreath which was associated with merry making and celebrations
A sunny, hot, Sunday afternoon and the beach should be full of families with children playing on the sands, buckets and spades, and the sounds of bat hitting ball. Beach cafes closed, ice-cream parlours boarded up, and the pier locked up. How are the families coping who have no access to outdoor facilities, no gardens, no nearby parks? We who have must be grateful – we are the lucky ones.
I am Brangien [Brangaine] of Weisefort, Ireland, lady-in-waiting to my cousin Isolde, who became promised to King Marc of Cornwall. His nephew Tristan escorted us to England by ship. But Tristan and Isolde fell in love at sea. As ye may know, or will find out, they cite the philter they drank as the cause, over which I was supposed to keep vigil. I would like to share my perspective of how I have created good in the world through my herbs and observations. There is much to tell, including how I have adopted this odd language. In good time. My life is in God’s hands. –Inspired by the modern French translations of the Tristan and Isolde texts